A museum celebrating the role of a Scottish island chain in the Royal Navy’s victories in both world wars reopens on July 2 after a £4.4m/three-year revamp.
Scapa Flow Museum at Lyness on the island of Hoy has focused on the role of Orkney and its huge natural harbour – twice the size of Nottingham – in the two global conflagrations for nearly forty years.
Scapa Flow – not Plymouth or Portsmouth – was the Navy’s premier base in both world wars.
It was from the huge natural harbor that the blockade of Germany was imposed between 1914 and 1918, then a generation later.
It was from Scapa Flow that the kernel of the Grand Fleet sailed to meet the High Seas Fleet at Jutland in May 1916.
Much of the naval infrastructure has either been pulled down or fallen into disrepair since the Navy left after WW2, but some remain, including the oil pumphouse which became a visitor center and museum at Lyness, championing the navy’s links with the islands.
The building has now completed a three-year £4.4m revamp to better tell that story – and better air some of the historic artefacts in the Orkney collection.
New additions to the expanded museum include a Virtual Reality display, fresh audio-visual displays, and a digital 3D exhibit which explores the wreck sites, including HMS Royal Oak – which divers cannot visit without special permission from the MoD due to its status as a war grave – and some of the scuttled German Fleet.
The extra space accommodates around 250 objects and naval artefacts, many never before put on display in Lyness, freeing up space in the pumphouse itself which was built on the cusp of WW2. In its heyday, the steam power it generated was used to pump oil delivered by tankers into storage tanks through a network of pipes.
Pictures credited to: Orkney Museum
It was in Scapa Flow that an aircraft landed on a moving ship for the first time.
It was in Scapa Flow that the German Fleet performed the greatest act of mass naval suicide in history, scuttling the bulk of their interned warships in June 1919.
And 20 years later, it was at Scapa Flow that Britain lost her first battleship in WW2, when U-47 evaded the defenses and sank HMS Royal Oak, killing over 800 sailors, many of them boys.
Thousands of sailors served at HMS Proserpine – dubbed ‘Proper Swine’ – as the base came to be called, with vast support facilities – sports pitches, canteens, engineering workshops, communications centers handling up to 9,000 calls a day, searchlights, boom defenses, gunnery positions, while air bases were established to provide fighter defense. Theatres were even built with some of the biggest stars of the day – George Formby, Gracie Fields, Vera Lynn, Will Hay and Flannigan and Allan – invited to perform.